[meteorite-list] Without a Trace: Whereabouts of Beagle 2 Remain a Mystery

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:31:20 2004
Message-ID: <200402051649.IAA26622_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Without a Trace: Whereabouts of Beagle 2 Remain a Mystery
Leonard David
04 February 2004

Gone without a trace. The British-built Beagle 2 lander remains lost in
action after attempting a landing on Mars late last year. The probe was
ejected from the European Space Agency's Mars Express Orbiter now circling
the red planet.

A Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) high-resolution view
of the Beagle 2 landing area was released January 30. Malin Space Science
Systems of San Diego, operator of the MOC, issued the search imagery.

Within a close up image of Isidis Planitia -- the December 25 landing zone
of the Beagle 2 -- there is no obvious sign of Beagle 2 -- but the photo
only covers a fraction of the area in which the probe might have landed.

Making the search for Beagle 2 more difficult is that the atmosphere of Mars
became dusty at the end of 2003. Increased dust in the martian atmosphere
can degrade the high-resolution imagery taken by the MOC.

The search for Beagle 2 has involved using both MOC imagery and data from
another NASA orbiter, the Mars Odyssey.

Search request

The Beagle 2 team requested the help of Malin Space Science Systems, hoping
that such a search might spot the probe's parachute, a heat-protecting
aeroshell discarded above the touchdown zone, or even the lander itself.

"There are no obvious indications for lander elements within the high
resolution MOC image," notes a report on the Beagle 2 web site:
www.beagle2.com/ .

"Of course, there is only a small chance that Beagle 2 actually landed in
this part of the ellipse," the Beagle 2 team reported. Highly reflective
items such as the Beagle 2 parachute or the lander itself should be visible
by the MOC camera.

The Beagle 2 team had their hopes raised given the successful use of the MOC
camera to spot NASA's Spirit lander, its parachute, and aeroshell within
Gusev Crater.

The hardware stood out, in part, by the fact that a reddish veneer of dust
particles has not yet made it difficult to discern fresh spacecraft elements
on old, dusty martian terrain.

Causes for Beagle's mishap

Using orbital imagery to figure out what went wrong with Beagle 2 remains a
high priority. Similar in fate to NASA's Mars Polar Lander in 1999, the
British lander did not relay signals to its operators about whether specific
milestones during its entry, descent and landing were achieved.

It is conceivable that the Beagle 2 failed during its high-temperature entry
over Mars. MOC observations could, at a minimum, verify whether Beagle 2's
parachute had deployed. Given that find, a next stage would be to locate
Beagle 2's three airbags and possibly the lander itself.

"Depending on what we may eventually see from these observations, it may be
possible to dramatically narrow the search for causes of Beagle's mishap,"
the Beagle 2 team reported.
Received on Thu 05 Feb 2004 11:49:52 AM PST

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